"A neo-retro game with a Space Fantasy story, inspired by J-RPGs of the PS1 era."
Our team has always been playing a lot : familiar with video games since our childhood, we experienced the evolution of the game industry until the current gen consoles and PC. We can obviously say we are huge fans of video games, and when we decided to create our own games, we had a wish : bringing back to life some of the best games of the past, with enough modernity. I'm sure you'll immediately feel our love for the PS1 era after watching the first pictures of TBT, and you'll probably understand why we chose to work on this project beyond any other !
Team and history
TBT is born from a novel by Simon Mesnard written in 2011 and self-published, entitled "La Tour de l'Espace" (The Tower in the Space). The book only exists in french.
The same year, Mesnard directed his 8th short film in tribute to Kubrick's 2001 : A Space Odyssey, and based on his book. As a result, he published "2011: A Space Adventure" on Vimeo, an animated sci-fi video of 6 minutes, made in 3D. The movie has been viewed by over 80k people in a few months and got the famous "Vimeo Staff Pick" in no time.
Thanks to this successful production, he worked on developping this universe, and he produced the indie game "ASA: A Space Adventure", a slideshow adventure which received good reviews from the criticism. When many people asked him for a sequel, he already had another thing in mind : reviving his favourite genre of games. This ambitious project would not be made on his own, and therefore required help from a team of indie freelancers.
With the participation of a 2nd CG graphist, with the programmer Jeremie Planckaert, and with the support of Stélian Derenne (ASA OST composer), we made the prototype of the game we imagined : "TBT: The Black Tower". It wasn't the first game we worked on : our graphist is an experienced artist who worked on various games, including some AAA productions.
About the director of TBT
Simon Mesnard created his game "ASA: A Space Adventure" on his own, without funds, in 2012. That's how motivated he is! It wasn't his first production though, even if he was more experienced in directing films and creating 3D for advertising. You can watch his personal short films on his Vimeo profile (http://vimeo.com/gnemix) and discover the diversity of his works through his demoreel. From photorealism to abstract effects, he's experienced in many fields, knowing how and when to apply his skills.
What is TBT ?
TBT: The Black Tower is an indie RPG for PC and Mac. The game will feature a vast world to explore through various places that you reach from a Worldmap, with random encounters and turn-based battles. If it sounds quite "Retro" on the paper, we'd like to add some modern elements to make it sound "Neo" too. Neo-Retro gaming is something that fits perfectly to our vision of Indie games, and we really hope that you will enjoy TBT for both its old mechanisms and its new opportunities.
Game Trailer 1
"Somewhere in the Universe, there is a spaceship called The Ark, built long ago by scientists of another galaxy. Their Ark has a specific mission : finding planets on the verge to die. The Ark releases a mysterious black Cube on each of these planets until one of its inhabitants finds it. Through this chosen person, the aim is to gather the memories and knowledge of a whole civilization before it definetely disapears, and that without interfering with its future. Then the Cube sends the precious data to the Ark, thus repeting the cycle for thousands of years...
Something similar happened in 2011 on planet Terra (a fantasy world, not the Earth !). Astronaut Philip Forté was repairing the old Cobalt-5 satellite for the CSE, when he sunddenly noticed an unknown black Cube drifting in Space. Forté mysteriously disappeared and is now known on Terra as "the crazy astronaut who sacrificed his life for an illusion".
21 years later, young Yan Forté - the son of Philippe - chose to live alone as a forest ranger. He doesn't want to hear anything about Space and trains hard to protect nature under the command of Jacob Leclerc, an old soldier who found a nice retreat in the woods. They have a rough life, finding their own food and fighting against wild beasts, but they like it. Everything will change when the Palak'us - pirates - start destroying the trees here and there for an unknown reason. During an investigation, Yan will meet a girl called Ellana, fallen from the sky in a cloud of Yellow Particles. The most disturbing is that she's got a black Die as a necklace, a Die that definetly reminds the Cube found by Philippe..."
TBT is basically the usual J-RPG with exploration, long story, quests, mini-games and turn-based battles : we liked most of these aspects in the original PS1 RPGs, and we want to respect them in our project too.
You play first as Yan Forté and start in the forest of Lutetie. You move the 3D model of the hero with your keyboard arrows on a 2D environment or on the 3D worldmap, and you can perform specific actions by pressing a key : open a chest, talk to someone, open menu, run/walk, etc...
When you travel in the environments of TBT, you will meet people if you are in a village or you will make random encounters with ennemies. When that happens, the game loads an arena where your heroes will face one or several monsters. You will need to defeat them or escape before being able to continue your journey.
All this is very close to what you can find in many J-RPGs because these gameplay mechanisms work and are apreciated by a lot of players. However, we'd like to make some personal changes in order to create something a bit more modern and exciting.
- There should be an alternative gameplay using your mouse, and if you have a gamepad that you love, it shouldn't be a problem to use it in TBT.
- On PS1, J-RPGs were great but were suffering of very pixelated backgrounds. Things were better on PS2 but later, suddenly, RPGs stopped using prerendered backgrounds and became full 3D games. We want to change that and make something with clean 2.5D-HD graphics.
- In most J-RPGs, you have a team of many heroes, but they're usually 3 or 4 to take part in the fights. In TBT, your team will count up to 6 characters, and the 6 of them will be available in battle. You'll choose 3 attackers + 3 supporters, and you'll have to manage your team to balance their skills
- In the previous lines, we said "random encounters". That doesn't mean it has to be boring! Random encounters is often synonymous of "too much fights !" and "rythm of the game is broken". In TBT, we really want to keep the flow going! We could, for example, add a kind of "Danger Gauge" that might help us to avoid some battles. We'd also like to make a mix with visible ennemies in some specific places.
The Battle System is something very long and difficult to program, and on many J-RPG projects, I believe it's one of the last parts to be achieved, because it is polished until the end. Many people asked us some pictures and videos, but we think we're not ready to show much, and we prefer to save this for later.
At least, we can write some explanations to give you a better idea. You probably understood that TBT will feature turn-based battles. Although, if the battles of the game will be similar to what you find in a Final Fantasy on PS1, there will still be some serious differences.
The 3 attackers + 3 supporters in a same fight is certainly the biggest difference with other J-RPGs. In your main menu, you chose between the heroes of your team who will be Attacker, and who will be Supporter. There's up to 3 attackers (or supporter), but there can be only 1 or 2 if your team is not complete yet. When the battle begins, all your heros appear (up to 6), and each of them has his role.
Attackers and supporters
The attackers will, of course, attack. They have offensive commands and the effect of each command will depend on the ennemy.
The Supporters will... support... the attackers. "Cheer up, guys !"
Sounds funny, but this role is very important. If the Attackers can possibly heal themselves, it doesn't mean they have the time to do so ! They will have to concentrate their efforts to defeat the strong ennemies ! So who's here to heal ? The Supporters, yes. But maybe you don't want to waste your time healing your Attackers if you can steal some precious XP or Skill Points to your ennemy ! This is important and will require you to adopt a good strategy. The Supporters will also have an important role in filling your Fury gauge. The Fury is a powerful combo.
Each hero will have a Skills Tree, where he will spend his Skill Points to unlock new abilities. It can be Supporting skills, like the power of auto-healing, stealing extra Skill Points or earning more money. It can also be Attacker skills, from counter-attack to new magic powers. Most of these skills come from the power of the black Cube : have you noticed that a Cube has 6 faces, and that it's the exact number of heros you can get in battle ? There's an important link here with the system of skills and battles.
- Physical attack : melee or distant
On the contrary of most J-RPGs, where you only have the choice to "attack", in TBT an attackers have the choice between : distant attack (i.e : w/ a bow) and melee attack (i.e : w/ a sword). Indeed, each character has the 2 possibilities, and it's up to you to discover the weakness of the ennemy. A distant attack will work better on a flying beast for example.
- Other commands
The other commands of an Attacker are more usual :
- Defend (receive less damage next turn)
- Cube power (use the Skills your learned, if they're not permanent)
- Spirits (equivalent to Summon : use the power of very strong Spirits you defeated)
This is a gauge that will be slowly filled by your Supporters ! The Fury is a strong special attack. Most of the time, it can kill the ennemies in one shot, so it is important to fill it as quick as possible in each battle.
- Random encounters
RE (random encounters) don't have to be a penalty : RE shouldn't happen every 5 steps ! That was a bit of a problem on PS1. We want to avoid that, and we want to make the experience more interesting. We are also thinking of implementing a kind of "Danger Gauge" that would allow you to avoid the battles as long as it's not filled, but the downside is that when the gauge is full, you don't have another choice but to fight.
- No fanfare
We will be careful in creating dynamic turn-based battles. We don't want them to be boring. Good news everyone : your PC is much more powerful than a PSone, and when a RE happens in TBT, the heros should be ready to fight immediately. Finally when you win, there's no fanfare, the results display immediately and you come back to your game in no time.
True, it can sound weird to start a project of retro RPG at the time of Final Fantasy XIV which has a vast and rich world... Think "INDIE" ! The following lines will not try to convince you if you've already decided that the games of tomorrow have to look absolutely like Skyrim or Mass Effect. We agree that these AAA games feature awesome graphics, have spectacular cutscenes and an incredible power of storytelling, thanks to a game of actors and voices that only the biggest studios can afford to use.
Let's be clear : TBT won't try to be at the top of the technology and we'll probably make some mistakes. Honestly, even with your help, we'll still be a small team and TBT will still be an indie game. Have a look at the ending credits of a Final Fantasy : how many names can you see ? "Indie" means what it means : you can't wait from an indie developer to create a AAA game. I want to be clear on that point now and avoid further disappointments.
This is the main reason why : we need to model in 3D a vast number of characters (heroes, NPCs and monsters), create beautiful pre-rendered cutscenes, and I would even say : create a full world ! Each place that you will visit needs to be thought and produced, and it goes from the 2D backgrounds to the inhabitants, including the dialogues and the storytelling. Hey, it's not RPG Maker we're using ! :)
Anyway, I'm sure you can feel our passion and motivation through this project. On the prototype of TBT, we were only 2 graphists and 1 programmer. Though, we already made a good work in these bad conditions, and if we chose to ask your help and crowdfund the game, it is to improve our team and make the work more comfortable, for a better result. If we had told you we were going to make 3D HD graphisms like in The Witcher 2, it would have been a lie : it is impossible for us, that's too much work for such a small team. So, when you watch the videos of TBT, you know what we are confident in working on, and you can assume that the result will be something close, and even better thanks to your help.
With that in mind, don't forget that our 1st goal is to revive a genre that we love but doesn't exist anymore nowadays : RPGs with prerendered backgrounds.
All of this is what we mean by "retro RPG". So yes, we're making a retro RPG and we really hope that, like us, you'll want to revive this PS1 era games with all your heart ! ;)
During the production and presentation of the prototype of TBT, we have been very interested in your suggestions and comments. We read with attention your reactions on Steam Greenlight, IndieDB and on the various articles in the press. We tried personally to get involved in the discussions and shared our opinion and point of view.
What you say is important, indeed, and will help us to create the game we all want. That's something we believe is only possible because TBT is a project made by a small team ! It's also the point of making an indie game : to be closer to all of you.
Please tell us what you think of TBT and what you want to find in the game !
Your main suggestions :
- FF7 look-alike problem
This is certainly what I read the most. It is true that many elements shown in the gameplay prototype can remind FF7, in particular in the village of Bois. It has a similarity with the sectors of Midgar, and Yan owns a big sword like Cloud... That's true, and we assume this choice as a tribute to one of our favorite games, but please don't make a focus on FF7 because it would be a mistake ! You can find big swords in Monter Hunter too. You can go to Space in FF8. You can visit slums in Fallout... If you really want to make a comparison with a PS1 J-RPG, I think it's more Xenogears, even if we don't have gears in TBT. TBT is one new game with its own background and a personal story.
You can also read and join this discussion on Steam Greenlight about FF7.
- Weird animation
You've been a lot to joke on some animations in the prototype : the way Yan runs in town, or the girl that looks drunk. Don't worry ! If, thanks to you, we can succeed in crowdfunding TBT, professional animators will integrate the team, and we already know the good guys.
- Stupid haircut
You didn't like Yan's haircut but we're not very decided to change it yet ;) Why ? First, because Yan is a forest ranger. As a result, he has a rough life in the forest and so, do you think he takes the time to comb ? Second, that was supposed to be a joke in the game. However, if you insist on changing it, of course we will !
- Game lifetime
Some of you asked how long would the final game be. If we take in account the difficulty of making such a game, the fact that we're a small team, and the casualization of video games, we assume that a lifetime of 15+ hours would be serious. The full story of TBT contains 30 main chapters, and each of them can last from 20 minutes to 2 hours (if very developped), depending on the funds we can gather.
- Classes or not ?
Someone asked if there would be classes during battles or not (white or black mage, thief, dragon knight, etc...). The answer is no ! Each character will have the possibility to evolve separately, through the skill tree. As soon as you have enough Skill Points, you can unlock a new skill, in order to specify the line of progression of your character thus directing him toward an "attacker' or "supporter" type of set.
- Others :
There were many more suggestions in your comments (boatblade, dialog boxes, translation, etc...) and you can count on us to take them into account. We also have our own list of changes !
Most of you made it clear that they didn't like the current music in the prototype video. No problem : that is a temporary music, lended by a musician friend who had it in his pockets ! (really !) The final game will have a real OST especially composed for the game by an association of freelancers, including Stélian Derenne who's already had the experience of working with us composing the OST of "ASA: A Space Adventure".
The Music of ASA was meant to be either discreet, or either dramatic, and was composed to highlight the static backgrounds of this slideshow game. The main theme "A Space Journey" is related to Space and to the feeling of anxiety that can bring the unknown Cube, while a track like "Odd Arrival" is more symphonic with a bit of craziness brought by the electro samples.
For TBT, we expect a mix of various genres depending on the emotions we want to convey. A rich world in the game means a rich OST, from rock to piano, through electronic music and orchestral when needed.
After thinking of it for a very long time, we can assure you that the targeted funds are the very bare necessities ! We just couldn't ask less, it would have been totally insane and irrealistic for the safe of the project. Did you know that the average cost of a Final Fantasy on PS1 was around 40 Millions $ ?
We also know that crowdfunding is not the miracle solution, but we have to try. If we fail, TBT will probably be cancelled, unfortunately.
So this is what we need the money for :
Direction and Main production
We are currently 2 graphists with various skills and we made most of the work on the Prototype of TBT on our own, without funds. This central part of the team will more likely remain the same, taking on the direction of the game development. This is not the most expensive part as we have already decided to leave all the money for the project itself, except for a very small amount that would help us to survive during a year.
Programmation and development
We were supported by a programmer who created the dialogue system, menus, and a part of the fighting system. He made it during his free time, because he has a very busy job already. We will need the support of a full-time programmer team if we want to achieve TBT : this is our main focus in order to have a solid game system with a perfect gameplay.
We'll also ask for the help of a developpement team, specialized in the Unity software, to make the transition between the Main programmer team and the graphists. Luckily, Unity3D brings a lot of tools that will make the development of TBT possible with a small team.
Animation and additional production
If you read the previous parts of this page, you know that an animator is important. Animators are the ones who will give life to the heros, without making them look crazy or dumb ! On top of that, they will animate the pre-rendered CG cutscenes and that is a lot of work already.
The additional graphists, probably freelancers, will support us "on demand" in producing the hundreds of environments, modeling the characters, and creating all you can see in the game, including special effects during battles !
Another part of the funds is for the musicians because, yes, we need people to create a cool and unique OST ! It's a 1 year work, even if not really full-time, and it will require a lot of efforts.
Derenne and his teammates already know that Uematsu or Mitsuda are the main composers you have in mind when it is question of J-RPG, and they will give their best to reach the level of quality we're all expecting.
Maybe this team could be less expensive in another country, but we are in France. I know some of you will think that we should ask the help of students or people who don't cost that much, but that's just impossible. If you don't have ready-to-work people at the right place, then such a project will fail !
Add also the necessity to have a place to work in, pay the dear taxes (which is honestly the worst !), and buy specific softwares which are very expensive, and you'll understand that what's left is for the electricity bill, and we're not cheating ;)
We're already expecting a lot from you, with a high funding target, for an ambitious project. We don't know how the campaign will go, but we must consider the slight possibility that we exceed our target. That would be incredible, of course !
In that situation, TBT could become even greater, more beautiful, and closer to the perfect neo-retro RPG we imagine. As explained previously, the current target is really the lowest we need to create the game, but this would be synonymous of a lot of sacrifices.
Let's dream ! With more money, we could achieve the following :
- 350K - More polish and more lifetime :
TBT would benefit of more attention on every detail. That could include the quality of the graphics, animations and music, but it could also be a more ambitious battle system with more possibilities. TBT would benefit of a longer lifetime and some additional bonus quests.
- 400K - More platforms :
TBT is planned for PC and Mac only, but we could add Linux to the list. It is also a dream to have our RPG on consoles ! If our favorite J-RPGs were on PS1, then it means we would love to have TBT on a PS system too. And we probably wouldn't stop here : the final game will be developed using Unity3D, which is very famous for its multi-platform possibilities.
+ more lifetime.
- 500K - More translations :
We focus our work on an english and a french version. It is quite difficult for us to add more languages in our game, but with a significant help we would gladely add Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Russian and Japanese texts.
+ more lifetime !
- 600K - Voices :
TBT is a retro game, and we currently plan on making it like on PS1, with texts only. It is however a wish from us to add voices, but they are very difficult and expensive to implement because of the big amount of dialogues. If we reached this goal, then we would ask the help of actors and implement their work in TBT.
+ more and more lifetime !!!
Even more ?
Adding voices would already be unbelievable and wonderful, but if this 600K goal was exceeded, it would bring much more opportunities. In this situation, we would count on you to tell us what you want, but there would also be a looooot of details we could work on, for example :
- using a motion capture system for the animations
- creating more CG cutscenes, with a higher quality
- bringing more life to the game with more animated details in the backgrounds
- add extra content within the game menu, like a making of or a new game+
- various difficulty levels
- more detailed story with an even longer lifetime
- epic battles in bonus quests against some awesome ennemies
- hiring a real orchestra to record the OST
We hope that after reading these lines, you’ll want to help TBT: The Black Tower and come along with us on this ambitious project. Even with 1 single euro you give us a lot, and if everyone tells his friends about this RPG, then it can become a reality. We're not only making the game on our own : you're with us, and you're part of the team too. TBT is your game. When you look at the possible rewards, you probably notice that there's no t-shirt, no poster and no figurine : we believe that people who contribute in such a game don't choose to do it for bonus stuff, but in order to make a dream come true. Our dream here beyond everything is to play a new exciting 2.5D RPG ! If we failed to reach our target, then we'd really want that another indie team brings a similar project, and maybe our experience with TBT will help them ! We hope that you share this dream with us, and that it will become true, thanks to our skills in making games and pictures, and thanks to your generous help. Thank you very much !!!
Author, Team leader